Cristiano Ronaldo was the hero for Manchester United after his hat-trick inspired Ralf Rangnick's side to a crucial 3-2 win over Tottenham to boost
Cristiano Ronaldo was the hero for Manchester United after his hat-trick inspired Ralf Rangnick’s side to a crucial 3-2 win over Tottenham to boost their chances of finishing in the top four. The Portuguese forward showed his star quality with a magnificent individual effort to clinch what could be a monumental victory in his United’s season.
In the race to finish in the top four and secure Champions League qualification, it was a case of win or bust for both sides in what promised to be a hotly-contested affair at Old Trafford.
Ronaldo scored his 10th league goal of the season with a stunning 25-yard effort inside the first quarter of an hour which flew into the top corner.
But Tottenham pulled level from the penalty spot after Alex Telles handled from Dejan Kulusevski’s cross, and Harry Kane dispatched the spot-kick with expertise.
Ronaldo restored United’s lead before the break after tapping home from Jadon Sancho’s low cross, but Harry Maguire’s own goal brought the visitors level.
However, the Portuguese superstar left it late to seal his hat-trick with a header to clinch a massive victory for the hosts and potentially save their season.
Here, Express Sport looks at five things we learned from a thrilling encounter in Manchester.
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Ronaldo rolls back the years
It just had to be him.
Twice, Manchester United had been pegged back by Tottenham. Luckily, they had Cristiano Ronaldo fresh and ready to take his frustration out on the opposition.
Most football fans will remember the moment when, back in 2009, Cristiano Ronaldo scored an incredible 40-yard effort against Porto in the Champions League for his club. Nearly 13 years later, the Portuguese produced an eerily similar strike against Tottenham that proved the 37-year-old has some magic left in his wand of a right foot.
After a delightful flick from Fred, he took one touch to set himself before thundering an effort — similar to one of his trademark free-kicks without the wall — that moved and dipped in the air, before crashing into the top left corner. Hugo Lloris flung himself at it but had no real chance of keeping it out.
It was a moment Ronaldo desperately needed. With only one goal in his last 10 games, keeping him in the side was becoming more of a question rather than dead certainty every week. And just seven minutes before the break, he answered the question with another. Sancho sprung the offside trap, unselfishly squared it for Ronaldo who was never missing from six yards out.
After United looked to have been denied three points by a Harry Maguire own goal, Ronaldo rose above everyone to head home a brilliant winner to seal his hat-trick and send a reminder to all of his doubters that he remains a special player.
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Maguire’s misery goes on
Harry Maguire cannot catch a break. Just when the centre-back may have felt he was having a decent game, at least compared to his recent performances, the Man United captain found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Reguilon’s cross was teasing enought to convince the 29-year-old he could try and clear it, but also enough to introduce that risk of putting it into his own goal.Given his luck lately, it was no surprise to see the ball nestle into the net past David de Gea.
There has been enough from Maguire’s time at the club to suggest this is nothing more than a rough patch, that he remains a quality defender. But at the same time, there is no end in sight of his individual errors costing United crucial points.
Rangnick has made some tough calls, such as dropping Ronaldo and Rashford in recent times, as well as axing Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw.
United fans may be wondering at what point does the German take Maguire out of the firing line and hand Victor Lindelof a chance to impress in the side.
Conte’s rallying call remains unanswered
Antonio Conte was realistic that his players had not been consistent enough for him to get excited about their dominant 5-0 win over Everton in midweek and challenged them to carry on where they left off against Manchester United.
“Today it’s good to celebrate because we won 5-0 but I want an answer from my players in the game against United on Saturday,” he said after the game.
Even if it took a moment of magic from Ronaldo to open the scoring rather than a defensive error, Conte will feel his side didn’t do enough to stop the veteran striker from striking from distance.
Kane’s penalty got them back in it, but this was nothing like their dominant display from midweek. They fought back twice against a rival side, and losing here just might have done fatal damage to their top-four hopes.
Conte will surely feel his side still have a long way to go before meeting his expectations and mixing it with the top three sides in the league.
Sancho finding his feet
With no Bruno Fernandes available, Rangnick switched to a three-man attack with Sancho and Marcus Rashford providing support out wide to Ronaldo.
Ronaldo might have scored the two goals, but it was Sancho who lit up the first half with arguably his finest performance in a United shirt. From the left, he led United’s counter-attacks with direct runs in behind.
It was crucial that the 21-year-old sprung the offside trap to set up Ronaldo for an easy finish and another example of how United are gradually finding out how to best utilise him.
The England international is best used in a counter-attacking system, rather than a patient, possession-based setup and his recent performances have demonstrated that.
It has taken a while for Sancho to find his best form after his £73m move from Borussia Dortmund. But with six goal contributions in his last nine appearances — three goals and three assists — the winger is finally showing why he was regarded as a pivotal addition to the squad.
Wing-backs fail to deliver for Spurs
One of the most notable aspects of Spurs’ convincing win over Everton in their last fixture was the use of wing-backs to carve open Everton’s defence. But at Old Trafford, Spurs struggled to get Sergio Reguilon and Matt Doherty involved in the first half.
The Spaniard spent most of his time pegged back trying to mark Rashford, while Doherty’s contributions were limited due to Dejan Kulusevksi’s quiet display. It was no surprise to see the visitors blunted in attack.
Conte relies on his wing-backs having the energy and willingness to be full of running down the flanks. It tends to give the forwards some encouragement to make runs through the middle and stretch their opposition.
But the Italian surely wasn’t happy with how little Spurs tested the likes of Dalot and Telles in those areas, having seen Doherty and Ryan Sessegnon wreak havoc only days before in north London.
Reguilon provided the extra man out wide to send in a dangerous cross into the box and Maguire diverted into his own net to level the score at 2-2. But Ronaldo’s late winner undid all of their hard work in the second half.